GPW: Self-Tempered Anarchy since 2009

Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
Send us your stories, ideas, and information. Insiders welcome - confidentiality guaranteed.

stories along The Way

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Griffith Park trails impacted by DWP work - update

Update on the park trails mess comes from Lynn Brown - National Trails Coordinator for ETI National:


The restoration work of replacing one old water pipeline in Griffith Park between the L.A. Zoo and Los Feliz Blvd is now finished. Currently, DWP is working on street restoration to be able to open it to normal traffic. As soon as the street is restored, DWP will follow with the restoration of the hiking and equestrian trail that has been closed to equestrians for nearly two years. Bikers will return to riding on the street, and the bridle trail will be open only for hikers and horses. The restoration plan, as agreed upon before the work was started, is to remove the pavement, and restore the trail surface with decomposed granite. Improvements to the existing trail includes installing woodcrete fencing between the street and the trail to run from the Ranger Station to the northern end of the golf course on Crystal Springs Drive.

Unfortunately trees were lost during the pipe construction, but new trees are to be planted along the trail. There is a plan to reestablish a formal tree canopy along the trail. DWP hopes to finish this section of the project in December 2011 or early January, 2012.

The next phase of pipe construction will begin possibly in early January, 2012, with digging the pipeline trenches on Zoo Drive. The process is open trench installation, digging deep trenches to house the pipes to be laid. All of this is to replace aging water pipelines for the City of Los Angeles.

The good news is that during the first phase some of this work will take place at night. Later, work may be done around the clock also, as necessary. Vehicle traffic along Zoo Drive will be impacted and flagmen are to be helping with those potential problems.

Work will begin east of the Victory Bridge and continue east past Pecan Grove. The hiking and equestrian trails will not be impacted directly, but there will be considerable noise and disruption along the street which may affect trail users.

The parking lot at Pecan Grove will remain accessible during construction. However, this work will not disturb the access through Patterson Tunnels and the trails that lead past the Condor cages along Skyline.

At Live Steamers, the trail known as Rattlesnake which accesses the park will remain open. Horses and hikers can come through the dirt parking lot across the street from the Live Steamers, cross the street as usual and continue on to favorite trails. The parking lot is next to the Griffith Park Service yard, currently filled with mountains of dirt, across the street from the Live Steamers. It will become a “laydown” area for DWP. DWP will use this area as a base to store materials, dirt, some pipe, machinery and to also house office trailers on site. The area will be enclosed with a fence about 40 feet west of the bridle trail crossing.

Warning signs will be posted for equestrians and hikers on affected trails.

DWP has been responsive to the idea that the office trailers will be parked closest to the dirt trail that leads from Tunnel 6 to Martinez. Since trailers are stationary and facing outward, they should not cause spooks to horses. Moving machinery and other activities will take place closer to Zoo Drive. Entrance to this laydown area will be on the western most point of the triangle shaped lot. Trucks, and other heavy machinery will drive in at the farthest point from the bridle trail.

This dirt parking lot across from Live Steamers has historically been the parking area for equestrians trailering in to ride in the Park. It will now be used by DWP as their laydown area for the next 2 ½ years. There will still be a small area in the laydown lot where trailers may park. However, as announced previously, horse trailer parking for out of town trailers will be in a designated area across from Martinez Arena.

To follow the construction progress the public can go to the DWP Webpage (link here) … Look at Unit 1B which will refer to this current construction work. There are different designations for various phases of this construction project. The Webpage of Unit 1B should be up for viewing by the end of November.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Amir's Garden receives a 'Best of Los Angeles' nod

Last week, LA Weekly was kind enough to select Amir's Garden as the best picnic oasis inside Griffith Park in their "Best of Los Angeles 2011" edition.

As the volunteer caretaker and steward of this special place since Amir passed away in 2003, I'd like to thank the Weekly for the award and write-up. The recognition for Amir's beautiful rest stop and ornamental garden in Griffith Park is very much appreciated!

Author Reuben E. Reynoso's write-up on the garden does bring up an issue that needs discussion. In it, he not-so-subtly suggests that visitors may want to bring wine to the garden and toast Amir (and then not to blame him or the Weekly for doing so).  This likely comes from the garden's and its founder's history. Amir's weekly potluck through the 1980s and early '90s often included wine. After all, when not caring for the garden, Amir Dialameh worked as a wine expert at Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset for years. A glass of red wine before bed was a part of his heart-healthy daily routine.

At the end of November, I will now have been caring for the garden as Amir did for a full 1/4 of the time he put in. That's 8 years at some 900 volunteer hours per year spent in the garden. In these past 8 years, the appearance of alcohol in the park - and in the garden itself - has definitely increased. And not in a positive way.

So I ask:  when you toast Amir for his beautiful gift and you want to use alcohol of some variety,  please respect the garden, the park, and everyone who enjoys the park by raising your toast outside the park.

Amir Dialameh in another lovely garden.

Credit: Farrokh A. Ashtiani
Today is a much different world than it was 20 years ago, for better or for worse. One contributing factor right now is the lack of any Park Ranger presence in the evenings and precious little during the day. No Ranger presence has made it obvious to anyone looking that no one is watching the store, anymore.

Over the summer, the amount of alcohol party trashings of the garden went from annoying-but-occasional to every weekend with one or more of these inappropriate uses of Amir's beautiful gift taking place. Just two weeks ago, I spotted four kids off-trail near Amir's with a telltale blue box in hand. When Park Rangers found them, these park patrons had 36 cans of beer prepped for a big afternoon.

It is illegal to bring alcohol into the park, and the law is for everyone: you cannot have one set of laws for some and not for others. Please don't bring alcohol to Amir's Garden, even for a simple toast.

If you are compelled to toast Amir in his fantastic garden, as anyone might be,  many non-alcoholic drinks are out there for you to choose from. Sparkling grape juice is my personal fave. Good stuff!

Read Farrokh Ashtiani's wonderful tribute to Amir at the time of his passing here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Biggest darn rattler in the park successfully relocated

Remember her?

More than 4' long and 14-15 rattles.

They don't come much bigger than this in Griffith Park:

In 2009, this grandmomma rattlesnake, looking very pregnant, scared quite a few visitors around Amir's Garden for a couple months. At the time, Park Rangers were patrolling for her so that they could relocate her safely to a less-traveled part of the park.

But Grandmomma suddenly dropped off the map. No sightings! As the garden caretaker, I seriously had eyes peeled for this gal. When she disappeared, I was worried something or someone had gotten to this beautiful creature before she could be safely moved. That said, rattlesnakes are territorial, and big ones maintain big territories. She could be anywhere in her territory.

Meanwhile, as we wondered where she might be, this photo kind of went viral throughout the park community. People kept asking me if I'd seen the big snake they saw in their email. I had to say 'no'.

At the end of August this year, Grandmomma suddenly reappeared in Amir's Garden. Terrified calls from garden visitors again went to the Park Rangers and this time they got up to the location just as she was leaving the area. They carefully placed her in a travel container and moved her to her new home in the park.

Here is Grandmomma circa early September 2011 - 15+ rattles strong but not so pregnant, cruising into her new low-density home where she won't terrify too many humans. What a gorgeous girl!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Congress of Neighborhoods Invades City Hall

John F John Jr

NC System Throws a 10th Year Birthday Party

From every corner
From every background
From every walk of life
They gather in peace with a common hope for a better future
The City of Angels shines down upon this day ~1913

On Saturday September 24th volunteers from all corners of Los Angeles gathered at City Hall for the 2011 Congress of Neighborhoods. It was standing room only inside the historical John Ferraro Council Chambers as a crowd of of nearly 600 crammed together for opening ceremonies. The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by greeting from Cindy Cleghorn who chaired the volunteer committee that organized the event.

Mayor Atnonio Villaraigosa
proclaimed that Neighborhood Councils are here to stay and proceeded with a series of softball remarks that made solid commitments to nothing. BH Kim, the General Manager of DONE gave what could be labeled his most inspiring speech to date. He comfortably addresses the room of savvy community activists many he knows on a first name basis. Mr. Kim pointed out specific projects that different NCs had accomplished to engage stakeholders, like The East Hollywood NC ArtCycle he attended the prior weekend. When each NC was mentioned a variety of shouts and clapping could be heard from the different camps throughout the room. Then he offered a call to action and encouraged further regional organization and for NCs to take positions on the Krekorian motions that will be up for Council vote later in the year.

The day then broke into a series of workshops and panel discussions. From broken side walk to pension reform, and from conflict of interest to social media, Los Angels neighbors talked, listened and exchanged ideas.

Throughout the event GGPNC Public Safety Chair
Andrea Laderosa mingled with fellow community leaders and spoke of how important it is for Los Feliz residents to be represented. It is clear that she is serious about this philosophy as she can be seen volunteering for nearly every community event in and around Los Feliz and now making her presence city wide. She easily exemplifies the best of Los Feliz and the type of positive change one person can bring to a neighborhood.

The event was a huge success not because it solved any of the problems facing Los Angeles, clearly it did not. What it did do was give credence to the ten year old Neighborhood Council system. There was a sense that BH Kim was addressing an emerging giant. The mechanism for regional collaboration on united causes is now in place. And at long last the voice of the common citizen may become louder than whoever has the fattest wallet on any given day

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Breached! GGPNC using invalid bylaws

By John F John Jr
The Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) has confirmed that the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council (GGPNC) has been conducting meeting, appointing board members and distributing public funds under the wrong set of bylaws.
It is a staggering violation of public trust. Tax payer funds available to the GGPNC are now being distributed by a board that was wrongly appointed.
This breach of established rules is sadly only one in a long line of nefarious conduct by the board under the helm of Los Feliz Forward for the past year. Whether they are violating their own rules or those mandated by the State of California makes little difference to those in charge. Once again neighborhood stakeholders have been hoodwinked by a small handful of angry men.

Los Feliz Forward was the brainchild of board members Tomas O’Grady and Mark Mauceri, both formerly from New Jersey. Shortly after relocating to Los Angeles they cleverly effected the hostile take over of the GGPNC. It could be argued that this was was achieved by exploiting vulnerable community groups. Disturbing messages of ethnic bias began to pop up in and around Los Feliz, a sort of double reverse hate speak. See [homophobe] and [ethnic].
They then spent the next year passing sweeping changes to bylaws that were once heralded as best practices by DONE. The process for pushing the bylaws to vote often involved cutting off public comment or posting agendas that didn’t meet minimum Brown Act requirements. It was the exact behavior the Brown Act was designed to protect against. Former board member and long term community activist Tom Wilson actually left the board because he was so frustrated with the lack of due diligence.
Ironically they had all the votes they needed to legally pass anything they wished. But it appears that they are so accustom to gaming the process that they are simply unable to play be the rules.
During the May meeting nine new board members were appointed to the GGPNC. They did this under the new set of rules that had been rushed through during the past year. However, the GGPNC neglected to wait for the bylaws to receive final approval from DONE. Nine senior members of the board who had spent decades donating their time to Los Feliz were not allowed to vote under a controversial provision of the new bylaws. This of course affected the potential vote count of every candidate running, some winning a seat by only one vote.
The new bylaws also affected who might have chosen to run for an appointed position. Senior board members had little hope of winning a seat with the” Los Feliz Forward only” voting block. It is safe to say that Tomas O’Grady’s and Mark Mauceri’s Los Feliz Forward has had an unfriendly history with the senior members of the GGPNC board. And in fact the average age of the GGPNC board has dropped about twenty years since the May appointments. The deep well of experience with the neighborhood, the park and with city and state government has been swept away. Now you will find the President allowing painfully long debates over which balloon to choose for a street fair.
GGPNC President Ron Ostrow who use to lecture his predecessors from the Robert Rules of Order as if he were a Parliamentary preacher now has to face the general board and try to wordsmith an excuse for what can be described as a major and unprecedented screw up. One can expect his delivery will be flawless. The only hope for a clean get away is that DONE some how forgives the breach of rules. The fact that to undo this arrogant mistake would be a gigantic mess might play in their favor. To make the invalid election valid would likely take more resources than DONE has to offer.
However it should not take DONE, or endless calls to the City Attorney, or the Code of Civility, or the State Brown Act, the GGPNC bylaws, or even Robert Rules of Order for the most casual observer to concluded that something is habitually wrong with the leadership of this neighborhood council.
The cure in whatever form may have to come from DONE. The leadership of GGPNC appear unable or unwilling to heal themselves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

City Council's Parks committee has a new chair

Councilman Paul Krekorian will be the new chair of the City Council's reformulated "Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods" committee when City Council returns from recess in September.

Tom LaBonge ruled the previous incarnation of the parks committee - lovingly nicknamed the Arts, Parks and Old Farts committee by those doomed to frequent it -  for nearly a decade. During the LaBonge era, parks and recreation in Los Angeles have become almost extinct.

Here's hoping that Krekorian will bring fresh energy and positive ideas for healthy parks to City Council, while keeping billboard forests from becoming LA's 21st century version of "open space".

[KPCC] Battle over billboards in City parks

[KPCC] The battle heats up over billboards in Los Angeles city parks

Aug. 23, 2011 | Katherine Butler
Image:  KCET
Welcome to the battle over billboards in Los Angeles city parks.

Could our city parks really be filled with dazzling billboards and distracting advertisements crowding park benches, picnic tables, and fence space? A law exists against using public space for signage. However, citing cutbacks, the Parks and Recreation (corr: Recreation and Parks) Commission is looking into ways for corporations to “donate” money in exchange for advertising space in the city parks. In fact, some have accused the city of actually selling public space to advertisers.

Last year, the city almost allowed super graphics from Warner Brothers 3-D movie “Yogi Bear” to populate “fences, shelters, picnic tables, trash cans, light standards, walkways, and other structures in Holmby Park, Pan Pacific Rec Center, and Lake Balboa Park.” After a public outcry, the plan was delayed and ultimately canned after the movie's premiere date passed.

The opposition to such ads has quickly grown. KCET launched an in-depth investigation of billboards in public spaces. (See their report here.) Meanwhile, the nonprofit Friends of Griffith Park has stepped up to the plate as the voice of public concern.

Recently, we spoke with Bernadette Soter, a founding board member of Friends of Griffith Park and current vice president of outreach for the organization. She answered the questions below.

There was a hearing on August 9th where the Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) of the L.A. City Council heard plans for a proposed new sign ordinance containing a provision for “comprehensive sign programs.” What happened at this hearing?

"LA City Council is moving ahead with revisions to the existing sign ordinance, but whether or not those revisions will permit commercial signing in parks and city-owned spaces remains to be seen. The proposals have been advanced outside of public view. The public is now learning of them and is beginning to speak out."

Why exactly is Friends of Griffith Park opposed to the idea? Is it an aesthetic reason?

"If successful, this radical re-writing of our sign laws will not only alter the purpose of our parks, it will expose the people who use them — especially kids — to commercial exploitation. The children who play in our parks should not be offered up as marketing targets. Parks are retreats from our urban milieu and the relentless drumbeat of commerce. They are also a core city service and do not exist to generate revenue. Not to mention, there is language general enough to allow digital signage."

Read the rest of this important article at KPCC's website.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SW Museum supporters sue... finally.

Southwest Museum supporters sue city, fearing site's extinction
August 3, 2011 | 3:27 pm

Years of wrangling over whether the Autry National Center has a right to shed a costly and inconvenient subsidiary, the Southwest Museum, has spilled, perhaps inevitably, into the courts.

Southwest backers are asking a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to overturn two recent decisions by Los Angeles city officials allowing the Autry to undertake what it has characterized as a routine gallery renovation at its Griffith Park museum. Opponents say the remodeling would be the first step in an irreversible sequence that would end the Southwest’s nearly hundred-year run in Mount Washington as the home of a prized collection of Native American artifacts. ...

Read the rest at the LA Times.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] Q: What Is The Difference Between "Legal" and "Moral?"

A: Is it one man's life?
Or perhaps the life and future well-being of family and friends who love him?
This photo was taken last Thursday at Headworks. See that little man out in the middle of those tractors and trucks? He is a living example, the difference, between what is legal and what is moral.
Even as PHG (Public Health Goals) and MCL (Maximum Contaminant Levels) thresholds for Chromium 6 in California are ostensibly going down to about 20% of what they used to "legally" be;
Even as Disney has "legally" stonewalled USEPA for years over what they added to the clean water pulled from underground wells to protect the pipes in their air cooling system;
Even as LADWP sits on a "legal" Cr VI assessment for future Headworks Park visitors and maintenance workers while somehow completely failing to assess the present Cr VI cancer risk of workers in the field for 40 hours a week until the year 2017...;
Even as the mayor's office, L.A. City Council's Energy & Environment Committee and the local union have all been notified, testified to, linked to....
There has been not one response.
"What's the difference?" you might ask. "There's no need to respond. It's all legal."
And you're right. Legally, nobody has to tell the man in the picture wearing a tee-shirt that he should be wearing a hazmat suit to protect his lungs from Cr VI inhalation and his skin from dermal absorption. Legally, no one has to warn him that continual Cr VI exposure can lead not only to skin rashes and eye irritation on a daily basis, but the ever-increasing possibility of infertility, cancer and his internal organs simply shutting down at some future date. Nobody has to tell him that Chromium 6 is one helluva dangerous chemical.
And we can be fairly certain that nobody has.
From LADWP to Disney to City of L.A.; all is quiet, all is legal -- for now. Nobody has to say anything, so they don't.
And when everything is legal, our community safely becomes indifferent.
That's the difference between what is moral and what is legal.

Monday, July 25, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] The Sign Over Tunnel 7

There is no fence that prevents you from walking through Tunnel 7 to the excavation area of Headworks. Take a walk or ride your horse through the tunnel and you can watch LADWP workers digging up and moving tons of soil contaminated by Chromium VI all day if you like. Of course, there is a sign that warns of noise from heavy machinery -- that might scare the horses. And there is a sign that warns day hikers and equestrians not to bring too much weight on the bridge as they cross. I saw a No Smoking sign. That was helpful. But I saw no sign warning of any environmental hazard in the area or any mention of Cr VI.
Interestingly enough, as I came back out through Tunnel 7, something did catch my eye. Somehow, I had missed it on my way in.
A humble memorial plaque smack dab center over the tunnel entrance:
Whether this gentleman's middle name began with a "Y" or an "E," we may never know.
But at least I found my warning sign at the entrance to Tunnel 7 on the way to Headworks.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] The Glove Fits. Disney Admits. A Bit.

Way back in late October 2009, after a judge denied Disney's motion to dismiss the Chromium 6 lawsuit by EWW, Disney officials went on record and continued to deny all charges levied by the suit. Disney spokesman, Jonathan Friedland went so far as to claim that Disney has "not used Chromium 6" on its property -- which is a big statement and, to a reasonable person, pretty much means Disney "never" used Chromium 6 on its property...
USEPA, already aware of Chromium 6/Disney allegations from a 1991 inquiry and not in the habit of accepting the word of Disney PR guys and lawyers as gospel, opened its own investigation.
Now, if I may defend Disney for a moment, EVERYBODY sues them and if someone told me that half of Disney's "cast members" were lawyers, I'd believe it. Being a lawyer for Disney has to be like cleaning up after the elephants in the center ring of a circus. As soon as you get all the big shit put away, somebody sends out a parade of camels....
Anyway, due to the large number of suits filed against them, Disney is in the habit of "deny and delay until they go away." If you're suing us because we have big pockets, we'll wait you out until yours are empty. Even interoffice memos at LADWP referred to Disney as being uncooperative with USEPA.
Of course, nobody has pockets like Uncle Sam (deep and empty, wink wink) and eventually USEPA got fed up with Disney's behavior and sent this 30-day demand letter to Disney President Robert Iger.
DID Disney respond after 30 days? Yes, they did. After months, if not years, of stonewalling, they provided an interesting chronology as the tip of the iceberg:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 10, 2012 Trial Date Set For Disney Chromium 6 Civil Suit

(Okay, so it won't be Judge Judy presiding, but I'm getting a little loopy going through all these court docs.... Highlight Below: Both parties agree on last day for out of court settlement.)
ORDER GRANTING JOINT STIPULATION AND REQUEST FOR RELIEF FROM SCHEDULING ORDER by Judge Dolly M. Gee 75 . The Amended Scheduling and Case Management Order of July 13, 2010. [Doc. # 59] is hereby modified as follows: Scheduling Event Modified Schedule Fact (non-expert) discovery cut-off November 21, 2011. Last day to exchange expert witness reports December 16, 2011. Last day to exchange rebuttal witness reports January 27, 2012. Last day to complete expert discovery March 9, 2012. Last day to file dispositive motions March 13, 2012. Last day to complete settlement conference February 28, 2012. Last day to file motions in limine May 17, 2012. Last day to file oppositions to motions in limine May 24, 2012. Final Pre-Trial Conference June 12, 2012 @ 2:00 p.m. Jury Trial July 10, 2012 @ 8:30 a.m. The above-captioned matter is set for a telephonic status conference with the Court on July 25, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. SEE ORDER.
(Thinking Aloud: IF the case actually goes to trial and IF Disney is actually found liable for discharging Chromium 6 into the streets of Burbank and/or Headworks, could LADWP eventually be held liable for 60 years of negligence?)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] Old Yardstick/New Tricks

Dateline: November 10, 2010 -- LADWP, after halting the excavation and siting of its 100-million gallon water tanks for an extended length of time in an area known as The Headworks, receives a re-assessment report of the project's exposure risks for Chromium VI...
The language is uhm, not-so-clear. But the idea is fairly obvious;
If you build restroom facilities in the new Headworks Park (yes, when in doubt, plant some trees and put a park on top of it....), make sure you particularly avoid two Cr VI hotspots, because if any repairs are needed on the underground plumbing of those new restrooms, maintenance workers will be exposed to dangerous levels of Chromium VI.
"Wow," you say, "but doesn't Chromium VI always degrade to the safer Chromium III over time? Eventually it will be safe, right?"
(Shakes head, wags finger) In this case, maybe not...
But that's another story to be told. It takes place over a 60-year period and it's called "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Spreading Grounds." It is the cause of much consternation between The Walt Disney Company, a whole bunch of lawyers, US EPA, CAL EPA, a regional water board, a trio of municipal utilities and, quite possibly, a singing Chihuahua looking for love in all the wrong places.
But I digress.
Today's story is called "Old Yardstick/New Tricks." It's an epic suspense/adventure about how a municipal utility found the courage to leap forward with a water project in a chemically hazardous area before new, stiffer health and environmental regulations become the law of the land and sabotage the entire thing.
Here's how it goes:
Somewhere Around February 2010
A report is commissioned by LADWP upon discovery that they have eyebrow-raising soil contamination numbers for deadly Chromium VI at their Headworks property where they have just begun excavation to install 100-million gallon tanks for drinking water storage. Work is halted. No official or public mention of Cr VI contamination is made.
November 2010
The report comes back to LADWP. Using the broadest currently accepted state screening levels and pre-2010 USEPA levels for Cr VI, it's called "Risk Assessment of the Potential Future Use of the Headworks Spreading Ground as a Park Following Installation of New Water Storage Tanks" and, like that title says, it assesses future use of Headworks as a park for humans to recreate, fully cognizant of the fact that very high levels of Cr VI are presently in soil samples in two specific areas and that seven of 18 water wells in the area were contaminated with Cr VI. The report also suggests that, if children use the "future" park, they should only visit once per week when school is not in session and one 2.7 hour visit once every other week when school IS in session to avoid higher than normal cancer risks. Piece o' cake. Kids are always good with rules. Especially when they're not posted anywhere.
December 2010
Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with a report on Cr VI levels in U.S. drinking water that receives a surprising amount of national attention. In the survey, a sample taken from a water fountain in an area adjacent to Griffith Park comes out rather high (MCL = Maximum Contamination Level). Courtesy of the EWG, all hell then breaks loose. Feinstein and Boxer jump in, calling for USEPA to get a handle on the MCL (and PHG -- Public Health Goal) for Cr VI immediately. Lisa Jackson, head of USEPA promises swift action.
Sometime In January/February 2011
Timing sucks and things get a little weird for that November Hexworks, uh, Headworks report. Spurred on by irate U.S. Senators and angry thirsty people everywhere, State of California through OEHAA and USEPA are now both taking public comment and advancing toward new improved numbers and regulations with much lower MCLs/PHGs thresholds for Cr VI. The clock is ticking and State of California's higher, older threshold numbers could be out of date sooner than later. LADWP, like it always does with new regs, new renewables mandates (Is it 20%, 33%, 40%, I dunno -- what day is it??) is gonna get screwed. Not only that, but a whole bunch of nasty skeletons are just knockin' on the closet door, ready to fly out, because LADWP has had oversight of The Headworks since 1938 and from then til now, only one company has had permission to recycle its water through Headworks soil: The Walt Disney Company.
And from then til now, LADWP provided little, if any, oversight for six decades.
So, you can imagine the crunchiness of the situation....
And Disney is pissed because USEPA is now forcing them to cooperate with their investigation and just tightened the screws with this letter and a demand that they respond in full within 30 days.
Meanwhile, a Cr VI-related civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death continues its stroll through the court system and even Disney's world-class legal team cannot seem to stop it.
The clock is ticking not only for Disney, but for LADWP.
And LADWP has a decision to make.
"Do we re-start the Headworks project or do we wait for new, lower Cr VI screening levels to be adopted by regulatory agencies which will cost our project even more?" Hmm.
"Do we tell everyone in the world that we took a 60-year nap while Disney dumped tons of Cr VI contaminated water into the Headworks Spreading Ground?" No.
"Do we ignore the mandate from Homeland Security to protect our water from terrorists by installing underground tanks?" We shouldn't. Let's call Eyewitness News.
"Do we have a current assessment of the property for future use that puts us in the clear?" Yes, we do.
"Even though future use wasn't considered with future regulations currently being considered?" Please, let's live in the present.
LADWP's decision?
"Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!"

It is less than half the Cr VI contamination level found by EWG in that Griffith Park drinking fountain a year ago.

More kids shot in Los Angeles City parks

Happened again last night:

Two shot at park during anti-gang program
July 21, 2011 | 9:39 am

And on July 14th, where it only made news because Hollywood stars were on scene:

Actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena witness real drama with LAPD
July 14, 2011

And on June 22nd. And a few other times in between that didn't make the news.

Meanwhile, it takes a full-on task force to convene in the future to address serious, well-known, ongoing operational issues at one of the large Los Angeles parks:

Problems at Harbor City park continue
July 20, 2011

So W-T-F?

The City Charter says that the responsible department is the Department of Recreation and Parks - full stop.

So where exactly has the department who is responsible for these parks been while all of this is going on?

Certainly not engaging in any significant proactive prevention.

Why isn't Recreation and Parks able to handle their parks?

Maybe you should ask your Councilperson and the Mayor that question. After all, they created and approved - unanimously -  a budget that has basically destroyed this department's ability to do much of anything, really.


You can keep on top of emergency calls via the web:  listen to local police and fire radio transmissions here.

The Daily News is reporting that Villaraigosa had planned to show off his "Summer Night Lights " program - the anti-gang program where two kids were shot last night - to the US Conference of Mayors tonight.

We're unable to confirm the exact location of the 911 call for a shooting at Toberman Recreation Center that came in earlier this afternoon. More when we get it.


Venice's Penmar Park Pulled From Consideration For Homeless Parking Program After Double Murder There

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

[HexWatch] The calm before the Cr VI shit-storm

What's that sound?

Why, it's the sound of environmental justice a- comin' down the Chromium VI-tainted track along Headworks, Griffith Park, and the LA River!

It sounds a little distant now, but the freight train of truth is well on its way. When the shit-storm hits, you'll know. As will the numerous corporations, municipalities, and public entities that willfully placed themselves in The Cowcatcher of Justice's path.

You have been hearing it here first, folks.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lack of proactive prevention leads to gang-related murder in LA City park

When public safety in our City parks consists of just responding to calls and takes no proactive, preventive ownership, then violence and bloodshed will be a growing common occurrence.

Proactive ownership via community-based policing is what LA City Park Rangers used to do. The Mayor, along with SEIU and City Controller Wendy Greuel have made it their mission to eradicate City Park Rangers in favor of the Office of Public Safety - a second police force created by Greuel in the name of "efficiency" that, like LAPD for the most part, also simply answers radio calls.

Actually, OPS answer calls IF any of their units are even available.

As long as there continues to be no Park Ranger presence, yesterday's multiple murder is just another day in a Los Angeles City park.

Get used to it, folks.

Two killed, one injured in shooting at Venice park

Police say they believe Wednesday afternoon's fatal shooting at Venice's Penmar Recreation Center was gang-related.
Los Angeles Police detectives, standing near a shooting victim, investigate the attack at Penmar Recreation Center in Venice. Two people were killed and another was injured in the shooting. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2011)
By Robert J. Lopez and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

June 23, 2011

A gunman calmly shot three people, two of them fatally, as a woman fled with a small child in her arms and others scrambled for safety Wednesday afternoon at a Venice park, according to police and an eyewitness.

The shooting forced authorities to lock down a recreation center filled with small children at Penmar park, which sits in a quiet neighborhood lined with single-family homes and shady trees in the 1300 block of East Lake Street.

"I heard popping sounds," the witness told The Times, "and I saw a guy standing and shooting a gun."

The witness said the attacker jumped into a car, perhaps a silver Volkswagen station wagon, in which a driver was waiting and fled.

A baseball coach gave CPR to a victim sprawled on the grass between the recreation center and a baseball diamond, the witness said. A second bystander administered CPR to a man lying in the bleachers.

The children in the recreation center, the oldest of whom were in third grade, were reunited with their parents at the center, said Los Angeles Police Lt. Jeff Bert.

Bert said investigators believe the shooting was gang-related. Officers found several shell casings in the area.

The third victim, police said, was shot in the leg and was being treated at a hospital. The two dead men were believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, police said.

One of the victims was pronounced dead at the park. The other died at a nearby hospital.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Autry Expansion up for vote today in City Council. ~yawn~

UPDATE:  Shocking - City Council votes to approve Autry Expansion.

Tommy LaBonge and Jackie Autry...
Sitting in a tree.

That's about the intelligence level of the nonsense that occurred at yesterday's scripted Arts Parks meeting.

LaBonge, with Herb Wesson's Gomer Pyle-like duplicity, ignored a very clear demonstration of CEQA violation and moved the Autry expansion forward for its City Council blessing today over a waffling Ed Reyes. As we predicted. Proving he's a good friend to HRH Jackie Autry, as so ordered.

Friends of the Southwest Museum will be in City Council in force today to plead for City Council to force the Autry to stand by its legal obligation to Los Angeles's oldest museum. City Council will hem-haw and whine, then pass the expansion with a vote somewhat divided down ethnic lines.

So it'll be "see ya in court... again" for LA City on the taxpayers' dime.  Didn't the geniuses downtown learn anything in losing the Lopez Canyon CEQA court case

It has gotten pretty bad in LA when The People must frequently take Their Government to court to enforce the law. Yet that is where we seem to be at.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Enviro-Scare: DWP to inject reclaimed water into Hansen Dam Recreation area

Hansen Dam Recreational Area is one of the most environmentally sensitive gems in the Los Angeles. The fourteen hundred acre regional park is managed by the City's Dept of Recreation and Parks via a lease from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Big and Little Tujunga Washes empty into the wildlife lake at the base of Hansen Dam. 1/7th of the City's drinking water is filtered through the sands of Hansen Dam.

The Big Tujunga river from Big Tujunga Dam to Hansen Dam is the protected habitat of the Santa Ana Sucker (fish), and the area surrounding Hansen Dam wildlife lake is the protected habitat of both the Lesser Bell's Vireo and the Cactus Wren (birds).

So when the LADWP - who is not the best of environmental stewards - decides to dump reclaimed water into this most environmentally sensitive of areas, you probably need to worry.

Water World Weekly
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has wrapped up its $2 million dollar Groundwater Replenishment Treatment Pilot Study, which takes a hard look at a plan to transform wastewater into drinking water.

Officials say the $700 million dollar plan will reduce the city's reliance on imported water supplies. Currently, more than half of its drinking water comes from Northern California or the Colorado River.

The city's Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Encino already pumps about 40 million gallons of reclaimed water daily for irrigation and industrial uses.

Under the proposed plan, 30,000 acre feet of that water would undergo further advanced treatment processes -- including microfiltration, reverse osmoses and UV purification -- before being injected into wells under the Hansen dam.

BY 2035, LA DWP aims to increase its use of reclaimed wastewater to 8 percent.

[Patch] Cell towers in City parks without community input in the works

Cell Phone Towers in Public Parks?

If Recreation and Parks managers get their way, the community will have little or no say in the matter

By Ajay Singh
June 18, 2011
Image from
The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks is considering the installation of cellular phone towers in some of the city’s public parks, and although the department says it has not set any policy on the issue, a high-ranking manager is opposed to any community representation in the project’s so-called “working sessions.”

That was the gist of comments inspired by a report presented to the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners at its twice-monthly meeting, held at the Glassell Park Recreation Center Wednesday, June 15.

The report (item # 11-185), among a dozen items on the meeting’s agenda, was titled “Park Property—Installation of Cellular Telecommunication Equipment.”

Presented by Melinda Gejer, a Rec and Parks city planning associate, the report began with a reference to the commissioners’ May 4 meeting, during which “some specific instructions [were] given by the commission in terms of revising the procedures, guidelines and leases to reflect the desires of this department,” Gejer said.

The official requested the board to adopt the various procedures and guidelines as well as site-lease agreements whose prices would be based on geographical locations, “reflecting the concept that some areas of the city are more desirable than others for our applicants.”

Although site leases for the proposed cellular towers provide “some flexibility for this department, in terms of procedure it’s important to remember that every application will come before this commission for conceptual approval,” Gejer said. “If conceptual approval is granted, then we can enter into an extensive and exhaustive community outreach process—and the final approval, reflecting those comments, will be brought back before this commission.”

Every application, Gejer concluded, will be “reviewed twice by this commission and will have full staff review as well.”

Glenn Bailey, chairman of the Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory Commission and a founding member of the Encino Neighborhood Council, urged the board to consult with the city’s neighborhood councils on any steps to allow cellular towers in public parks within a given council’s jurisdiction.

Bailey also asked the board to provide a minimum of 60 days notice to neighborhood councils so that relevant committees within the councils get enough time to study and decide on the cellular tower proposals before the department.

“We are quite concerned about the general, multiple use of our parks and rec areas and we are also concerned regarding the process,” Clyde Williams, a member of the L.A. 32 Neighborhood Council, which encompasses El Sereno, and the Northeast Los Angeles Coalition, told the board.

All proposals for cell towers in the L.A. 32 Neighborhood Council’s jurisdiction go through the council’s land use committee, which makes recommendations, Williams said. “Why not [in the case of] the parks?”

A lot of people in El Sereno “are quite sensitive to cellular phone towers, where they going to be located—and also whether they may or may not influence the public health and visual aspects [of the issue],” Williams said, adding that “we’ve gone around and around with AT&T and others in El Sereno regarding cell towers and how to mount them.”

Finally, said Williams, “we are part of the City of Los Angeles—why aren’t the departments of neighborhood empowerment talking to Rec and Parks?”

The idea of building cellular phone towers in public parks continues the Board’s “headlong slide of commercialization of our city parks,” said Joseph Young, a community activist with the Sierra Club and the Friends of Griffith Park. “You want to wring every penny you can out of our parks. It is wrong. We are destroying the very things that make parks what they are intended to be—places of serenity, tranquility and beauty.”

Read the rest of the article at Patch.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Forest Lawn plans clear-cut into Royce Canyon wildlife corridor [LATimes]

Environmental groups concerned about Forest Lawn's plan to clear trees

By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times

June 17, 2011

A proposal to replace 835 oak, sycamore and walnut trees with 199,000 new interment spaces at a prominent Hollywood Hills cemetery near Griffith Park is at the heart of a controversy over the future of what little remains of the Los Angeles area's undeveloped wildlife habitat.

Image from
Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries wants to develop 120 acres of its grounds because its existing expanse of carefully manicured lawns has nearly run out of room for interments in grassy havens with names like "Ascending Dawn" and "Vale of Hope."On Wednesday, as families in mourning gathered around grave sites overlooking the San Fernando Valley, Forest Lawn President and Chief Executive Darin B. Drabing said the proposal aims to meet a pressing need.

"There have been no new regional cemeteries built in 50 years, yet most people want to bury their loved ones close to home," he said. "Some critics should put their emotions in neutral and realize that we are serving an ancient human impulse to say, 'Remember me,' as well as traditional, cultural and religious needs to recall and honor loved ones who passed away."

The 63-year-old cemetery serves about 3,000 families annually.

The new facility would cost tens of millions of dollars and include 108,000 grave sites for casket burials, and 91,500 spaces for above-ground interments.

Drabing also pointed out that the new development would only affect about 2% of the greater Griffith Park natural habitat area. In addition, Forest Lawn has contributed 200 acres of wildlands to Griffith Park over the last 20 years.

The proposal, however, has ruffled the feathers of groups including the Friends of Griffith Park, the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council, the Sierra Club, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game. The groups are concerned that it could have a disastrous impact on the area's woodlands, wildlife corridors and creatures ranging from legless lizards to western mastiff bats.

The proposal calls for the removal of 632 coast live oaks, 59 sycamores and 144 Southern California black walnut trees across 18 acres of land through 2050, according to the draft environmental impact report released earlier this year. It would also destroy rare plants: the oscillated Humboldt Lily, Catalina mariposa lily and Coulter's matilija poppy.

The Department of Fish and Game, in its response to the draft EIR, argued that Forest Lawn's plan to replace mature woodlands with acorns and 1-gallon seedlings planted on graded slopes within the project site, or at undisclosed locations elsewhere, is vague and "not truly mitigating for the loss of a community."

In an interview, Forest Lawn officials said they plan to replace each felled tree with up to 15 new trees cultivated from local seeds. The new trees would be planted across the cemetery grounds, and in selected locations in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Other critics said the EIR does not adequately address the cumulative effects of nearby proposed and ongoing development projects in terms of traffic and noise, light and pollution. For example, a proposed NBCUniversal development proposal calls for roughly 2 million square feet of new commercial uses, including a 500-room hotel and 2,937 multifamily residential units.

Of particular concern are potentially adverse effects to Sennett Creek, a spring-fed perennial stream that courses from Griffith Park, winds through the cemetery and empties into the Los Angeles River. The portion flowing through Forest Lawn has undergone significant restoration over the last 15 years and provides habitat for toads, tree frogs and garter snakes, and lush cover for deer, foxes and bobcats.

Read the rest of the story at the LA Times.

[CityWatch] Stubborn Autry Museum Asks City Council to Break Law

Stubborn Autry Museum Asks City Council to Break Law
By Ann Walnum

PARKS POLITICS - As a long-time volunteer for the Southwest Museum and a founder of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition (70 community and civil rights organizations), I remain amazed at the Autry Museum’s stubborn effort to violate our General Plan – the City’s fundamental zoning law – in a series of project proposals intended to relocate the Southwest Museum to the Autry’s building in Griffith Park.

A recent version of this idea was approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission but City Council voted under Charter Section 245 to assume jurisdiction over the issue due to concerns about transparency of the approval process.

After Autry angrily withdrew its first expansion proposal in 2009 which endangered preservation of the Southwest Museum under the General Plan, the Autry Board developed a new project idea, to move its collection storage out of Griffith Park and begin relocating the Southwest Museum’s premiere exhibits from Mount Washington to Griffith Park’s storage area.

The new project and the one withdrawn in 2009 are equally offensive to the City’s General Plan which contains a policy requiring the City to only take actions that “maintain the Southwest Museum on Mount Washington.”

Autry applied to the State for a $6.6 million grant to pay for relocation of the Southwest Museum’s most important Native American exhibits to its Griffith Park building. State officials, unaware of the unlawful nature of the grant proposal, tentatively funded it.

This puts the Los Angeles City Council in an unfair position: Should it ignore its own General Plan and approve Autry’s project to avoid losing the State grant? Or should the integrity of the City’s fundamental law -- the General Plan -- prevail? Autry knows its proposal is contrary to City law, but is asking Council Member Tom LaBonge to ram it through City Council on Tuesday, June 21, 2011, nonetheless.

Recently, the California Department of Recreation and Parks announced that the Autry Museum was selected to receive a $6.6 million Proposition 84 grant of taxpayer dollars to pay for the construction of permanent and rotating galleries of Native American themes and a native plant education garden at its Griffith Park site. On the surface, to the average person and typical City Council member, this sounds like good news: $6.6 million returning to the City’s economy.

But dig deeper and you’ll learn that Autry’s grant application should have never been submitted. That’s because the project for which it seeks state funding is designed to forever destroy the Southwest Museum – an institution Autry promised everyone it would “respect” by maintaining its separate identity and operation as part of a 2003 merger with the former Southwest Museum Corporation.

For more than 50 years, school field trips to the Southwest Museum brought to life history lessons about the State’s and Southern California’s earliest inhabitants. Autry’s move will render the historic building redundant to exhibiting its own collections – a building for which we taxpayers already shelled out $25 million for a Metro Rail Gold Line station at the front door to help bolster its economic feasibility. That clears the way for Autry to sell or give the building away – essentially stealing the Southwest’s priceless collections for itself and forever extinguishing the “Southwest Museum” name/institution.

At a hearing in Council Member Tom LaBonge’s Arts and Culture Committee on Friday, June 3, 2011, Council Member Ed Reyes had some questions he needed answered.

The Casa de Adobe (a replica of a hacienda from California’s pastoral farming days), from which Autry removed all the artifacts and locked the door, lies in Reyes’ District. “What are Autry’s plans for the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe?” Reyes asked. Autry’s new CEO and President, Daniel Findley, essentially took the Fifth Amendment: “I will defer to the City Attorney as to whether I have to answer that question,” Findley replied.

When it became clear that Findley would refuse to answer Reyes’ questions about plans for the future of the historic Southwest Museum structures in Northeast LA, Reyes simply read his questions into the record and they remain unanswered.

However, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out Autry’s goal. Autry signed the 2003 merger agreement promising to rehabilitate the Southwest Museum if its expert team found it physically and economically feasible.

Read the rest of this story at CityWatch

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Autry Expansion battle - part 2: CEQA CEQA CEQA

Throwdown time:

It's Tom LaBonge and Jackie Autry verses Ed Reyes, supporters of the Southwest Museum, and the almighty CEQA next Monday in items (2) and (3).

The dealine for City Council action is the next day, Tuesday the 21st.  After City Council votes to approve the Autry's expansion, that evening Tom LaBonge will be sworn into his third term of office by Jackie Autry on Mt Hollywood at 6:30pm. Free cowboy pony ride shuttles up the hill for all wanting to witness history in the making.  Saddle up, y'all!

Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee - Special Meeting
Monday, June 20, 2011
MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2011* ROOM 1060*, CITY HALL - 9:00 AM* 

(Richard Williams - Legislative Assistant - 213-978-1071 or e-mail

Click here for agenda packet

Note: For information regarding the Committee and its operations, please contact the Committee Legislative Assistant at the phone number and/or email address listed above. Upon 24-hour advance notice, assistive listening devices, and other accommodations, such as sign language interpretation and translation services are available at the meeting. Contact the Legislative Assistant listed above for the needed services.

Continued from June 14, 2011 Scheduled for Council – June 21, 2011 Los Angeles Department on Aging (LADOA) report relative to acceptance of grant funds from the California Department of Aging (AP-1112-25 & HI-1112-25); approval of 2011-12 Area Plan Update to 2009-12 Area Plan; and execution of proposed Senior Services contracts for Fiscal Year 2011-12.

Fiscal Impact Statement Submitted: Yes
Community Impact Statement: None submitted

CD 4
Continued from June 3, 2011 Special Meeting Scheduled for Council – June 21, 2011 Consideration of the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners’ action of May 20, 2011, relative to the proposed renovations of existing exhibit gallerias, outdoor area, restrooms, and associated improvements at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West. Fiscal Impact Statement Submitted: No Community Impact Statement: None submitted (On May 31, 2011, Council adopted Motion [Huizar-Reyes] asserting jurisdiction over this matter, pursuant to Charter Section 245.) 



Scheduled for Council – June 21, 2011 
Appeal filed by Daniel Wright, on behalf of the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance brought under California Public Resources Code Section 21151(c) (California Environmental Quality Act - CEQA), from the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners’ determination that a proposed project at the Autry National Center was exempt from CEQA environmental review for various improvements for the property located at 4700 Western Heritage Way.

Fiscal Impact Statement Submitted: No
Community Impact Statement: None

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

City Council votes to take jurisdiction over Autry decision

Evoking Section 245 of the Los Angeles City Charter, the City Council today voted 12-0 to override the Recreation and Parks Commission's approval of the Autry's latest expansion plans.

Per Section 245, the City Council has three weeks to make their decision on the issue.  A public hearing will be held on Friday at the Council's Arts Parks Health and Aging committee meeting at City Hall. CD 4 councilman Tom LaBonge is the chair of this committee, which will make a recommendation to City Council on the issue.

Don't hold your breath for any different outcome.  LaBonge has been notorious throughout his time as councilman for bypassing the Recreation and Parks commission at whim, especially when it comes to yet another shiny object he wants in Griffith Park.

Yet recently, LaBonge has taken to visibly deferring everything and anything Recreation and Parks for approval by the Barry Sanders' controlled rubber-stamp commission. Adding to the pressure to approve the expansion ASAP is the Autry's July 1st deadline to have a contract in place if they are to receive a $6 million grant of taxpayer money for this project.

So barring any major political pressure, LaBonge's committee will likely recommend approval of the Autry expansion, making this somewhat rare application of City Charter Section 245 simply academic.

Meanwhile, the Autry's legal and moral obligation to the Southwest Museum - Los Angeles's oldest museum - remains unfulfilled.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Huizar introduces motion voiding Rec and Parks', Sanders' Autry approval

Following questionable action by the Recreation and Parks Commission to approve the Autry's expansion in Griffith Park without provision for the Southwest Museum, Jose Huizar moved quickly to counter.

Council motion 11-0884 is scheduled to be heard at Council next Tuesday.... It takes 10 votes to be approved.

If you concur, please contact your councilmember ASAP and let them know you support this motion.

Seems like Latham & Watkins alum Barry Sanders is working awfully hard lately for his former employer. Sanders' recent high profile conflicts of interest could be enough to get him kicked off the Recreation and Parks Commission any day now.

City Council motion 11-0884:


At its meeting of May 20, 2011 the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners acted to approve "the proposed renovations of existing exhibit in the galleria, and outdoor area and restrooms at the Autry National Center's Museum of the American West," as described in the Summary of the General Manager's Report No. 11-129 and depicted in Exhibit A to that Report.

Legitimate concerns have been raised as to the nature of tills Board action. And notwithstanding the ultimate decision in this matter the public is entitled to a full airing of this issue and to ample opportunity to express their views.

For the above reasons, the Council should assert jurisdiction over the above referenced Recreation and Park Commission Board action.

I THEREFORE MOVE that pursuant to Section 245 of the Los Angeles City Charter, the City Council assert jurisdiction over the May 20, 2011 Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners action to approve the proposed renovations of existing exhibit in the galleria, and outdoor area and restrooms at the Autry National Center's Museum of the American West, as described in the Summary of the General Manager's Report No. 11-129 and depicted in Exhibit A to that Report.

I FURTHER MOVE that upon assertion of jurisdiction, the matter be referred to Committee for further review.

Motion made by Jose Huizar, seconded by Ed Reyes

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rec and Parks Commission quietly votes for Autry Expansion

Last Friday the Recreation and Parks Commission, headed by Latham & Watkins alum Barry Sanders, voted to allow the Autry Museum to expand on the current Griffith Park site.

The Autry received a $6.6 million grant from State Prop 84 parks funds for part of the expansion project, titled Facilities for Native American Stewardship.  So not only is the Autry getting priceless public land in Griffith Park for just $1 per year and the entire Southwest Museum (collection and facilities), but their expansion is being funded by your tax dollars.

The Recreation and Parks' Commission Board report for this project, including maps, is here.

There are more than just a couple of little problems with the Commission's stealth action. First, most people who were on the City's automated distribution list for this "special" Rec and Parks Commission meeting somehow didn't receive the meeting notice and agenda. Wonder how that happened?

Second, the only thing standing between the Autry's original agreement to maintain the Southwest Museum as a viable museum was the leverage the potential approval of this expansion wielded.

Without a strong community response, that leverage, courtesy Sanders et al,  is now gone.

Sanders, who has been removed from the decision-making on this issue in the past due to his links to Latham & Watkins (the Autry's legal representation), presided over the Commission vote this time. Yet Mr. Sanders' conflict of interest seems to be stronger than ever, given his recent push with Latham's backing for commercial signage all over City parks, including Griffith.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum's response to this stealth vote of questionable legality by the Recreation and Parks Commission follows. It's lengthy, but includes a detailed history of the situation and how you can take action.


As you know, from 2005 to 2009 the Autry Museum attempted to process an environmental impact report and applications with the City of Los Angeles to dramatically expand its Griffith Park building. When Autry announced its ambitions for expansion in 2005, the response of the Coalition and its member organizations was to adopt a resolution demanding that as a condition of expanding exhibition space in Griffith Park, the City require the Autry to continue to operate exhibitions of the Southwest Museum at the historic site. All of Autry’s political lobbying and fundraising was directed toward getting the City permits to expand the Griffith Park building free and clear of any continuing obligation as to the historic site.

The Autry’s expansion plan and grandiose fundraising campaign was largely a failure. When the Board of Referred Powers (a committee of City Council members) granted the request of Councilmember Jose Huizar to delay Autry approvals while he sought to negotiate a legally binding commitment of Autry to continue to operate the historic site, Autry angrily dropped the expansion project and tried to “blame” Mr. Huizar and the Coalition. The reality, of course, was that Autry’s management failed to raise enough money to construct the massive expansion and it did not want to be held accountable for its merger fiduciary duties.

In 2005 the Autry was called upon by the Coalition to abandon any plan to replace the Southwest Museum’s exhibition space and its management and Board proceeded anyway in the face of massive community opposition. When that opposition was rallied in summer of 2009 to hold Autry accountable to its merger agreement promises, the Autry publicly embarrassed itself by withdrawing the project. According to Autry’s financial statements, over $6 million was wasted (written off the books) on the effort to avoid its merger promises to restore the Southwest Museum. That would have gone a long way to restore the historic building, but Autry’s Board wasted the money on its effort to rip the Southwest Museum from its historic context.

About one year after withdrawal of the expansion project, the Autry announced it had purchased a warehouse outside the jurisdiction (and land use control) of the City of Los Angeles – in nearby Burbank on Victory Boulevard. The Autry expressed its intent to move the Southwest’s and the Autry’s collection storage into this single building and make it a research center. This was Autry’s first step in further breaching its fiduciary duties owed to the Southwest Museum institution and assets.

Councilmember Jose Huizar continued to meet with Autry officials. The Councilmember offered a stunning package of financial assistance to the Autry to rehabilitate the Southwest Museum and restore it to public service. The City offered the Autry up to $25 million of low interest loans available through the Federal Economic Stimulus and City support of an Autry application to the State of California Prop 84 competitive grant program for a Southwest Museum rehabilitation project. Autry CEO John Gray told Mr. Huizar that Autry was “not interested” in pursuing those opportunities. As soon as Autry withdrew is expansion in 2009, the Autry returned to the State a $167,000 grant to waterproof the Southwest Museum’s entrance tunnel – admitting that it had actually done nothing on completing the work. Most recently, Autry has been trying to offer the Southwest Museum building to anyone who wants it after Autry is through using it as a warehouse for the Southwest’s collections.

It turns out that while Autry was not interested in pursuing a state grant for the historic Southwest, it prepared an application to the State Department of Recreation and Parks Prop 84 program for $6.1 million to use our taxpayer dollars to remodel its basement to become the new Southwest Museum galleries. In other words, when all the bells and whistles are removed from the original expansion plan, the ONE THING the Autry really wants is still to duplicate the Southwest’s exhibition spaces in Griffith Park so as to render the historic building unneeded. This is an offensive and now clear breach of the Autry Board’s fiduciary duties owed to the Southwest Museum institution to maintain it as a separately named and marketed institution under the Autry National Center “umbrella.”

Because Autry could not politically prevail in a fully-noticed series of hearings to obtain permits for its original expansion plan, Autry officials have colluded with General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri of the City’s Recreation and Parks Department to process a Notice of Exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for the basement expansion of exhibition space. There was no proper legal basis for the Notice of Exemption as Mukri and his staff sat in the front row of hearings in 2009 and listened to the Coalition present expert evidence that any effort to render the Southwest’s exhibition spaces redundant would violate the legal protections of the Southwest Museum enacted by the City into the Northeast Community Plan. That is a significant negative land use impact that disqualifies the use of an Exemption. Having used the fraudulent misrepresentations of the Autry to process an improper CEQA document – all without any notice to the public – rendered the Autry’s environmental “review” null and void in California law.

When the Coalition learned of this fraud, through its attorneys of Chatten-Brown &Carstens, the State grant authority and the officials of the City of Los Angeles were put on notice that the Notice of Exemption was null and the State had no authority to make a discretionary $6.1 million grant to Autry. State officials ignored this notice and recently announced the grant award of your tax dollars to the Autry to aid in its cultural piracy.

Last Friday, May 20, 2011, your Coalition Steering Committee got a phone call informing that Rec and Parks Commission President, Barry Sanders (the same man who recently tried to put commercial supergraphic advertising in the City’s parks) had used a Special Meeting agenda to slip the City’s approval of the Autry Basement Expansion onto the Board’s agenda.

In contrast to the Autry’s previous expansion efforts, this one has been done without a single presentation to the Los Feliz community affected by the expansion, the affected neighborhood councils, or the Coalition. The new CEO, Daniel Findley’s strategy appears to have been to “go quiet” on Autry’s plans and find a way to get it past the City of Los Angeles without the knowledge of the thousands of Southwest Museum supporters.

During the last effort to get permits, Mr. Sanders, a former partner of the law firm of Latham & Watkins, was determined by the City Attorney to have a disqualifying interest under Government Code 1090 that prevented the Rec. and Parks Commission from hearing the permit application, because Latham was representing Autry.  How Mr. Sanders was able to act on this most recent application of the Autry for essentially the same type of permit is unknown. His actions however carry a stench of impropriety.

The Rec. and Parks Board, after hearing the testimony of four Autry employees and no one else rubber stamped the Autry Basement Expansion without any mailed notice of hearing to any affected stakeholder. In fact, although Coalition Steering Committee members are subscribed to the Rec. and Parks Board agenda e-mail list, we stopped receiving agendas last month, just before Sanders moved to place the Autry item on the Board’s agenda. Imagine the contrast of hundreds of people in City Council Chambers in June 2009 objecting to Autry’s expansion of duplicative Southwest Museum exhibition space and last Friday when, as a result of the machinations of Recreation and Parks Commission staff and its Board President, no one was in the audience. This demonstrates just how just how far certain partisans in the City’s Recreation and Parks Department would go to hand Autry the expansion permits in Griffith Park free and clear of any continuing obligation to the historic site of the Southwest Museum.

Under Los Angeles City Charter section 245, the decision of the Recreation and Parks Commission may be called up to City Council for review. In order to do so, Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes, in whose district’s the assets of the Southwest Museum reside, must obtain 10 votes (2/3 vote of Council) to “assume jurisdiction” over the Commission’s approval of Autry’s project. Once assuming jurisdiction, Council has the power to veto the Commission decision within 21 calendar days. If the City Council agrees with objections raised by the people of Los Angeles, the Recreation and Parks Department can be directed to prepare a proper environmental document, conduct public presentation of this revised project expansion to the public and neighborhood councils, and negotiate with Autry regarding future use of the Southwest Museum. Additionally, a proper review of the conflict-of-interest laws of the state must be conducted of Mr. Sander’s participation in this latest “dark of the night” set of actions.

As we know from the successful first battle against the Autry’s lawyers and lobbyists, winning at City Hall is a numbers game. The more people from all over the City who demand that City Council overturn the Recreation and Parks Commission’s actions, the more likely Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes will obtain 10 votes (and overcome the obvious lobbying of Councilmember LaBonge – whose district would get the Southwest’s assets).

In many ways, your task in making your opinion known to City Councilmembers is easier this time. Autry has abandoned all pretense that it would ever care for and rehabilitate the Southwest Museum for continued service to future residents and school children of Los Angeles. Councilmember LaBonge cannot argue to his colleagues that the Southwest will be protected because Autry is now saying it will give the building away to anyone who will take it. In this context, the Autry’s breaches of fiduciary duty have become clear and indefensible. All of the misrepresentations about its $100 million endowment, its claims of “good faith” toward maintaining the separate identity of the Southwest Museum have been revealed for what they were: a fraudulent scheme to steal the Southwest’s collections for itself.

Councilmember Huizar recently brought together a group of leaders from Occidental College, Autry, community cultural groups and the Coalition. At that time, Autry CEO Daniel Findley indicated that Autry was willing to enter into a contract to lend artifacts of the Southwest Museum for exhibition at the historic site and even program one of the galleries (similar to its claims during the prior application to expand its Griffith Park building). However, even though Autry walked away with $5 million of the Southwest’s endowment, Autry is currently unwilling to give any of that endowment or provide other operating assistance to the Southwest’s site.

Occidental College, which once had a Southwest Studies program, is interested in reviving it at the Southwest Museum site, but Occidental does not currently feel it has the resources to lead rehabilitation of the Southwest’s building alone. It needs support and help.

Your Coalition Steering Committee has brought to the table representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust has expertise and connections to resources to help operate the Southwest site using exhibits from the Southwest’s vast collection under a cooperative agreement with Autry. These talks are merely in the exploratory stage, however, but the revocation of Autry’s ill-gotten Recreation and Parks Commission permits would help force a compromise.

If Autry obtains its expansion permits in Griffith Park free and clear of any obligation to the historic Southwest Museum, it will have no reason to enter into a cooperative agreement to share its collections. It will simply take the Southwest’s collections for itself. As has always been the Coalition’s position, the Southwest’s collection is big enough to support exhibitions at the Autry site and the historic Southwest Museum – and such exhibits must be modern, engaging, and more than what was done in the past at the Southwest Museum.

DRAFT LETTER  (link to letter and addresses)
The absolutely best letter is one that you take to write armed with the information from this ACTION ALERT and your own knowledge. Uniquely written letters to City Councilmembers signal a high level of commitment and passion. However, if time does not allow you to write a unique letter, take our sample letter below and make it your own. We have provided the email list for you to send it to.

Faxes are also extremely powerful with Councilmembers. If we run out the paper in the Council office fax machines (like we did last time), that sends a shot across the bow of Council that we mean business. We have also provided a list of places to send your letter via fax to increase your impact.

Finally, there is a personal phone call. We would ask that you make three phone calls: Two calls should be made to the offices of Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes demanding that they take immediate action to overturn the sleazy and underhanded actions of the Recreation and Parks Commission.